A Tribute to Defunct Video Stores
Updated: Feb 26
Browsing rows of dusty, sun-faded VHS tapes. Huge cardboard displays. Talking movies with the staff, and renting films you'd never heard of before. These were the things of video store utopia. Fast-forward to the present, however, and you'll have trouble finding a room full of physical media to loan. This article will detail former video joints in my town, but let's start by getting the only active one out of the way:
This store is my last local vestige of retail video greatness. It's this or the dreaded Redbox. What fun is that?
I can remember when Family Video sprang up from the ground, circa 2001. Elmira's Pet Boutique was torn down to make way for it. The main thing I will always remember about that store was their permanent sign in the window, which read "Pet Burial Kits." No wonder they went out of business!
Believe it or not, there was a controversy when Family Video first came to town. The local paper ran a story, questioning whether it was a porn store. An unspecified number of Family Video locations have an unadvertised "back room," and I suspect that to be the case with ours.
I was scraping to get by in 2006, and would almost daily stop in Family Video for a free rental to watch at my ghetto apartment. I think I checked out Hello Kitty's Furry Tail Theater three times! Pathetic.
Eventually about a third of Family Video was converted to a Jimmy John's. The sub shop was closed because it ended up being a front for drug trafficking. (That's not the only time you'll hear about drugs in this article.) You can see the empty storefront to the left of the photo below.
I once applied for a job at this location, and was given a written test that would be intimidating to NASA candidates. I specifically recall a question about determining barometric pressure. I believe this test was given specifically to people they didn't want to hire, especially because I heard of an employee through a friend who was asked "Do you like movies?" as his sole interview question. Lame. Still, I frequented this store out of principle until they insisted I had outstanding late fees and wouldn't let me rent anything until they were paid. Even though it was only a couple of bucks, those movies weren't late! Family Video is now more of a CBD store that happens to rent movies; they don't even advertise new releases anymore.
UPDATE: This store is out of business as of September 2020.
The following locations once housed epic collections of movies. I'm proud to say that I patronized almost all of them:
The Video Loft
There were two Video Loft locations. Their tagline was "Your 4th Network," which quickly became dated. This location of the main store has left behind a testament to its former glory:
This Video Loft was cannibalized from the defunct fast-food chain, The Red Barn. Back in the '70s, my mom contracted food poisoning at a Red Barn location (not this one), and was in a coma for five days. The hospital told my dad that they weren't sure she was going to make it. If she hadn't, you wouldn't be reading this article!
I always wondered if The Video Loft took its name retroactively, due to the "barn" signage. They wouldn't have been the first business to do so: The first Pizza Hut store inherited a sign that read "Pizza," and had enough room for three more letters. I bet you didn't know that. Stick with me, kid.
Here's how the store was laid out: They took out the tables, and put in aisles of tapes. It could have been done overnight, and maybe it was. Even the counter where customers would have placed their orders was still there. It may have been the same cash register. Looking back, it was a weird setup, but nobody cared. This Video Loft location was closed by the late '90s. (All of the dates in this article are from memory and should not be taken as gospel.) I remember these guys having a great horror lineup. I once got a promotional paper cutout Thing from The Addams Family movie here.
Unfortunately, the building has since been demolished, and you can bet that whatever is eventually built there won't be nearly as awesome. (Unless it's an arcade, which is about as likely as another video store.)
The Video Loft, second location.
The storefront on the far left was the "other" Video Loft, located across town. This store was much smaller. There was a really creepy wooden shanty inside, bearing the sign "Adult Training Films," which presumably taught fiduciary responsibility. Incredibly, this location lasted until around 2013, when it became a mattress store, and now it's a hydroponics shop. I ended up buying a good chunk of Video Loft's collective inventory.
The Video Loft had at least one sister store called Video City, but I don't know where it was located or its dates of operation. The pictured tape is Parents, an overlooked horror gem starring a pre-insane Randy Quaid. The "4th Network" branding is the giveaway:
The building with an identity crisis, Video Tech later became a veterinary clinic, and now it's a Dunkin' Donuts. There was another Video Tech location in a neighboring town.
I can still see the Super Mario Bros. 3 poster in the window which now sports a sandwich ad.
Of all the stores in this list, Video Tech is the most special to me. I vividly recall renting Mrs. Doubtfire there, after seeing it at a friend's house. I remember seeing their signage out front, thinking that Father's Day and What's Love Got To Do With It didn't display well together. My dad got me this Sonic the Hedgehog gum dispenser from the store. It still has candy in it, but I think I'll save it for later!
My friend Luke hooked me up with this Video Tech treasure, The Book of Pooh. Sometimes, the jokes write themselves! You can read Luke's review of Return of the Living Dead Part II here.
My Most cherished Video Tech ephemera is this Children of the Corn III promotional balloon, another gift from my dad. In 1995, he was working as an ad executive with a radio station, and Video Tech was one of his clients. The store manager gave it to him, and it's been mine ever since. It's still filled with the carbon dioxide of an anonymous minimum wage employee. Seriously, this thing hasn't been inflated since the mid '90s. They don't make inflatable corn like they used to. I remember seeing this balloon for the first time, as it sat in the back of my dad's red 1987 Daytona Pacifica. Today, it hangs in Ghosts of the '80s, my home arcade.
I didn't watch Children of the Corn III until Halloween 2002, when some girls at my college hosted a movie night in their dorm. (There was no way I could turn that down.) The screening was courtesy of a rented tape from Take Two Video, located in Mansfield, PA. Twenty years later, I found a VHS tape of Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs at the pictured Goodwill in Wellsboro, about twenty minutes from Mansfield. I was thrilled to discover that the cassette was from Take Two Video!
We were talking about Video Tech:
The former owner of Video Tech found this article and contacted me! He sent me photos of the store, circa 1988. Super-cool guy.
These regional chain stores lived up to their name: Video King was your first destination for the latest releases. Upon entry, you would be greeted with the smell of hot, buttered popcorn. They never cared if you went back for refills. This was Video King's main location, known as Video King Superstore.
Video King used to run television ads, which would tout the hottest new tapes. I will never forget the jingle, etched into my psyche: "You've never seen... anything like it... [three rapid drum beats] Video King!" And it was true. Upon setting my twelve-year old foot into the store for the first time, I was completely blown away.
In 1994, Video King ran an ad promising that, if they didn't have a copy of the newly-released Forrest Gump, they would give you a free rental of your choice. Of course, everyone and their mother went there, hoping that the store didn't have the film, in order to get their free rental. It was genius marketing, and my family was not exempt from the ploy. Maybe someone lucked out with a freebie, but with a wall full of nothing but Forrest Gump tapes, it wasn't us. We ended up renting the future Tom Hanks classic, and later that night, we learned why life is like a box of chocolates. In the summer of 2021, I found a Video King Forrest Gump tape while sifting through curbside rummage sale leftovers. (Read: "I was digging in a random person's garbage.") Maybe this was the same tape we rented!